5,800-year-old Snowshoe Found in Italian Alps May Be the World’s Oldest

September 13, 2016 | Erica Tennenhouse

Photo credit: Dolomite Mountains, Italy. Public Domain image.

The gear of a prehistoric mountaineer.

What might be the world’s oldest snowshoe has been found in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains, not far from the spot where the frozen remains of Ötzi the Iceman were first spotted 25 years ago.

Simone Bartolini, a cartographer from Italy’s Military Geographical Institute, came across the shoe when he was mapping the border with Austria in 2003, but thought little of it. “At first I thought it was maybe 100 years old and was a snowshoe that belonged to a farmer who lost it while driving cattle,” Bartolini said at a press conference. “I kept it in my office as a keepsake."

That’s where it stayed for 12 years until last year when, according to The Telegraph, Bartolini realized the artefact might be much older. He enlisted the help of archaeologists.

Carbon dating revealed the snowshoe was manufactured some time between 3,800 and 3,700 BC.

Credit: Tweet from The Bradshaw Foundation 

“It is the oldest snowshoe in the world so far discovered, dating to around 5,800 years ago,” scientists said.

"The shoe is evidence that people in the Neolithic period were living in the Alps area and had equipped themselves accordingly," said Catrin Marzoli, the director of South Tyrol’s cultural heritage department, at the press conference.

The snowshoe’s age means its wearer would have lived around 500 years before the famed Ötzi lost his life on the Alps.

Intense study of Ötzi has yielded insights into the clothing and gear that prehistoric mountaineers wore. Just last month, scientists extracted DNA from his well-preserved garments, finding that he dressed for the weather by adorning himself with sheep leather, bear fur, and goat skin, among other items.

The snowshoe will be displayed at the South Tyrolean Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano — the same museum that houses Ötzi.

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